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Posted November 22, 2021 by Ashley Desmett, M.D.
Whether it is a urinary tract infection, sinus infection, or an infected wound, most people consider these things to be a part of life. While many infections clear up on their own or with antibiotic medications, some infections progress to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
According to the Sepsis Alliance, 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with sepsis every year. What’s more, sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals, accounting for 35% of all deaths in this setting.
Sepsis is caused by the body’s response to infection. The immune system recognizes infection and sends signals to the body to start fighting. In sepsis, these defense signals trigger widespread inflammation, leading to tissue and organ damage.
Sepsis can progress very quickly to septic shock, during which the blood pressure drops. With low blood pressure, the tissues and organs do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood flow. This can cause organ failure, tissue damage leading to the limb amputation, and even death. The mortality rate from septic shock is around 40%.
The key to surviving sepsis is early diagnosis, so recognizing the signs of sepsis may save your life. Summa Health discusses risk factors, symptoms, treatment, and prevention of sepsis. This knowledge will help you to act quickly when an infection gets worse.
Risk Factors for Sepsis
Sepsis can occur at any age, but older people are at higher risk, as are those with compromised immune systems due to immunosuppressant drugs or cancer. Other risk factors for developing sepsis include diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease, and the use of indwelling devices like urinary catheters or tracheostomy tubes. Patients recovering from severe wounds or burn injuries are also at increased risk for developing sepsis.
Symptoms of Sepsis
Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lungs, urinary tract, digestive tract, or on the skin. If these or any other type of infection seems to be getting worse, it is important to see a doctor right away.
Common early signs of sepsis include:
When sepsis is severe, you may also experience the following symptoms:
If you notice two or more of these symptoms after treatment for infection, it is also important to contact your doctor immediately.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Sepsis
Doctors diagnose sepsis based on symptoms, vital signs, and tests that detect infection. It is important to reach the diagnosis quickly, because each hour of delay in treatment drastically increases the mortality rate from sepsis.
Once diagnosed, patients will immediately receive antibiotics and intravenous fluids, as well as other therapies specific to the suspected source of infection. Medications to increase blood pressure levels or reduce inflammation may also be needed.
If the cause of sepsis is determined to be a skin infection, severe cases may require surgery to remove the damaged tissue.
The first line of defense is to reduce infection risk by:
If you do get an infection, follow these steps to help reduce your risk of developing sepsis:
Sepsis is an emergency. If you notice any symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Sepsis becomes harder to treat the further it progresses, which is why it’s important to practice prevention and be aware of the signs of sepsis any time you get an infection.